Basra – Sadr wins; did America Lose?

From “Basra Battle Strengthens Sadr,” by Yochi J. Dreazen in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The Iraqi government’s inability to oust Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia from Basra has boosted the fortunes of the Shiite cleric while damaging the standing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

We’ll see. The more interesting aspect is the potential effect that al-Maliki’s failure has on US politics. The Journal goes on:

Worsening conditions in Iraq pose a particular challenge for likely Republican nominee Sen. John McCain, who has staked his candidacy on his ability to persuade antiwar voters that victory in Iraq remains possible.

McCain’s immediate response appears to be to double down on al-Maliki:

“Apparently it was Sadr who asked for the cease-fire. It wasn’t Maliki,” Sen. McCain noted. “Very rarely do I see the winning side declare a cease-fire.”

The New York Times today captured a little of the complexity of Middle Eastern political negotiations, giving a idea of what might have taken place:

Senior political leaders involved in the negotiations that led to Mr. Sadr’s statements on Sunday indicated that Mr. Maliki had been directly involved, essentially agreeing to Mr. Sadr’s demands in advance.

The upshot is that Moqtada al-Sadr’s political strength has grown both by the results of the fighting and by his offer to end it. That offer, which stopped (at least for now) Iraqi-on-Iraqi as well as Muslim-on-Muslim violence will be seen as magnanimous by many Iraqis both in and out of al-Sadr’s movement. As the Journal article notes:

If the elections were held today, “there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Sadrists would win across the south,” said a U.S. official at the American Embassy in Baghdad who monitors Iraqi politics.

This does not have to be bad news for America, unless we have for some reason defined our “victory” in terms of particular Iraqi politicians, such as al-Maliki of the Dawa party or al-Hakim of ISCI.

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